A natural necessity proceeding from physical causes alone without the
intervention of man. It is an accident which could not have been occasioned by
human agency but preceded from physical causes alone.
An act of God is a general defense used in cases of torts when an event over
which the defendant has no control over occurs and the damage is caused by the
forces of nature. In those cases, the defendant will not be liable in law of
tort for such inadvertent damage. Act of God defined as circumstances which no
human foresight can provide against any of which human prudence is not bound to
recognize the possibility, and which when they do occur, thus the calamities
that do not involve the obligation of paying for the consequences that result
Act Of God Or Vis Major
The 'act of God'
defence is based on the tort law principle that
liability must be founded on a fault and that a person cannot be penalized where
the fault is that of a 'vis major' where all precautions were taken, and a
casualty still occurred.
Vis major is defined, as A loss that results immediately from a natural cause
without the intervention of man, and could not have been prevented by the
exercise of prudence, diligence, and care.
According to Salmond an act of God includes those acts which a man cannot
avoid by taking reasonable care. Such accidents are the result of natural forces
and are incoherent with the agency of man.
Thus it is an act which is due to natural causes directly and exclusively
without human intervention, and that it could not have been prevented by any
amount of foresight and pains and care reasonably to have been expected from him
i.e. the defendant. According to Lord Mansfield, act of god is defines as it is
something in opposition to the act of man.
Elements Of Act Of God
An act of God is an uncommon, extraordinary and unforeseen manifestation of the
forces of nature, or a misfortune or accident arising from inevitable necessity.
An act of god cannot prevent by reasonable human foresight and care.
The effect of ordinary causes may be foreseen and avoided by the exercise of
human care. For example, the fact that rain will leak through a defective roof
is foreseeable by an ordinary man. In case of foreseeable causes, failure to
take the necessary precautions constitutes negligence, and the party injured in
the accident may be entitled to damages. An act of God, therefore, is so
extraordinary and devoid of human agency that reasonable care would not avoid
the consequences. Therefore in such cases the injured party has no right to
An Occurrence Not Reasonably Forseeable
The basic and prime element of an act of god is the happening of an
unforeseeable event. For this, if the harm or loss was caused by a foreseeable
accident that could have been prevented, the party who suffered the injury has
the right to compensation. However, the damage caused by an unforeseen and
uncontrollable natural event is not compensable as it could not have been
prevented or avoided by foresight or prudence of man.
Moreover, courts are of the opinion that the act of God
only if the event is so exceptional and could not have been anticipated or
expected by the long history of climate variations in the locality. It is
constructed by only the memory of man i.e. recorded history. The courts may
demand expert testimonies to prove that an event was unforeseeable.
It is Impossible To Prevent By Any Reasonable Precautions And Absence Of
Human Agency Causing The Alleged Damage:
It means practically impossible to resist. Negligence constitutes failure to
take the necessary precautions. In an incident where a human factor was present,
even though the harm could not be prevented, the fact that the human factor
exercised reasonable care and precautions to prevent the harm has to be proved
if the defence of act of God
has to prevail. If negligence is alleged
and proved, then the defence of act of God
will fail. If an owner was
negligent in properly maintaining a tree that fell on a passerby, he cannot be
exempted from liability by act of God principle.
- In the case of Nichols v. Marshland the defendant has a number
of artificial lakes on his land. Extraordinary rain such as had never been
witnessed in living memory caused the banks of the lakes to burst and the
escaping water carried away four bridges belonging to the plaintiff. It was
held that the plaintiff's bridges were swept by an act of God and the
defendant was not liable.
- In the case of Blyth v. Birmingham Water Works Co the
defendants had constructed water pipes which were reasonably strong enough
to withstand severe frost. There was an unprecented severe frost that year
causing the pipes to burst resulting in severe damage to the plaintiff's
property. It was held that though frost is a natural phenomenon, the
occurrence of an unforeseen severe frost can be attributed to an act of God,
thus the relieving the defendants of any liability.
- In case of Ramalinga Nadar v. Narayana Reddiar the plaintiff
had booked goods with the defendant for transportation. The goods are looted
by a mob, the prevention of which was beyond control of defendant. It was
held that event beyond control of the defendant cannot be said Act of God.
It was held that the destructive acts of an unruly mob cannot be considered
an Act of God.
Although the act of God defence- that a defendant is insulated from liability
for personal injury or property damages caused by a natural cause – is rarely
used, it may become more common and general in the future if predictions of
disastrous weather events caused by global warming prove true. One prediction
related to global warming is that catastrophic weather events such as
hurricanes, tornados, and torrential rains will occur more often. All of these
have the potential for causing extensive personal injury and property damage and
consequently mental trauma.
Written By: Preeti Bafna
- [(1876) 2 ExD1 ]
- (1856) 11 Ex Ch 781
- (AIR 1971 Ker 197)
I'm doing BBA L.L.B from Unitedworld School of Law, Karnavati University.
You can follow me on my Linkedin account which is http://www.linkedin.com/in/preeti-bafna-9a30ba1a8. I'm writing this article to understand the concept of act of god which is a general defence
under law of torts. Black's Law Dictionary defines an act of God as An act
occasioned exclusively by violence of nature without the interference of any